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Some perspective on statistics and how we use it

In the new, or perhaps not so new anymore, age of statistics and application of data, it is perhaps important to reflect on how we use it, how athletes can learn from it and what we can do to avoid such pitfalls. Disclaimer: I got a B+ in my stats class two years ago so there's that.


Stephen Curry shot a paltry 41.4 from 3-9 feet in the past 2012-13 season. For those that argue he isn't a pure point guard, he only averages a tad under seven assists per game while unable to finish shots from close distance. For those on the other side of the proverbial fence, Curry had an assists percentage rate (a percentage of teammates' field goals assisted when he is on the floor) of 31.1 percent. MVP and all-galaxy LeBron James owns a 36.4 percent number.

Harrison Barnes shot 30.5 percent from between the free-throw and three-point line in the regular season. He had 98 assists and 101 turnovers in that time, an ordinary 75.8 percent from the free-throw line and 9.2 points per game. Barnes proceeded to average nearly the same shooting percentage (44.4 percent), 15 assists to 16 turnovers and just a .06 percent increase from distance. The difference? The points per game that increased as his minutes did, all the way to 16.1.

And for those that read the Klay Thompson season review, someone brought up that Thompson had a 107 Defensive Rating compared to Tony Allen's 98. Then a -.05 RAPM compared to Allen's +3.5.

So what's the point of all these numbers? We can assuredly go back and forth, comparing true shooting percentages, regularized-adjusted plus/minus, PER, or whatever is your fancy and debate this all night long over a bottle of Chardonnay (is that what people drink?). The perspective here lies in the fact that all this is tautological. We debate these arguments because there will always be two points to be had, two intersecting ideas that don't necessarily converge but are tantalizingly close enough thus enticing us to forge on disputing each other's wanting notions.


The Golden State Warriors have their own analytics crew, headed by Kirk Lacob, and we started to see this as the Warriors embarked on a free-flowing controlled offense with Curry and Klay Thompson manning the controls and like Daryl Morey in Houston, still recognizing the need for a defensive-minded big man anchoring the middle. Now with Andre Iguodala in the fold, the Warriors have the potential to run the offense that the so-called math minds so love (the value of three-point shooting), while embracing the defensive strategies necessary to avoid the pitfalls of a Don Nelson-coached team. But on that same token, it's a touch-and-go situation where Mark Jackson would be unlikely to allow such applications into the locker room without his approval. Though I can't find the video anywhere (an ESPN interview with Jackson and Curry on how Lacob's crew has meshed in with the team. If anyone can find it, please post it, thanks), Jackson concedes that he is advised to tell Curry and Thompson to bomb away as much as possible. But concede is the key word. Jackson listens but won't give full reign to the people that aren't in his position. While not as extreme as the unfortunate Lionel Hollins situation, there's always two sides to an argument and this year, it's up to Jackson to mesh both ideas as a coach.

But for the writers, bloggers and most fans, statistics are used as a starting point and an anchor to each argument. We chortle and gleefully type out snarky remarks when someone dare uses a phrase along the lines of, "He just wants it more!" With each passing year, especially given the explosive success of the Sloan conferences, it's imperative we arrive to each battle with evidence in hand. And in no way am I bemoaning this arrival of intelligent banter. We can argue Synergy's numbers with our eyes, with more numbers, with half-truisms passed down by our grandfathers that watched the good ole days of Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Kevin McHale. And that's what statistics are for, at least to the fans. It's an outlet with which we can make our point. More likely than not, most of us will never become high-ranking consultants that can make Monta Ellis-Andrew Bogut trade decisions. The pretty graphs, charts full of numbers, and analytical video breakdowns are fodder for our increasingly intelligent debates in an entity that can swing our emotions in a way that connects each and every one of us.


The lines between the analytical minds and the basketball players are blurring and not only will it be interesting to see how we frame our arguments, it'll be much more conclusive to watch it unfold on this burgeoning playoff team. And if all this was about David Lee vs. Harrison Barnes at the 4-spot, you've got me.

Statistical support for this piece provided by, unless stated otherwise.

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